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Oliver Twisted: "Consider Yourself...Multicultural"
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April 07, 2009, 12:53 PM
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Sam Karnick, who blogs at The American Culture, has a post at Big Hollywood about the new PBS version of Oliver Twist.

Bill Sykes`s girlfriend Nancy is played by Sophie Okonedo, who was born in England, but whose mother was Nigerian, making her look extremely improbable for London in 1838.

Rose Maylie, Oliver`s benefactress, is turned into an adventure heroine. With her sidekick/housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin, she prowls the mean streets of London rescuing Oliver.

Bill Sykes`s death is due to remorse, rather than accidentally, as in the original.

Finally, Fagin becomes a victim of antisemitism, and Karnick writes

"The producers, however, are intent on blaming society for Fagin’s crimes, and they make this repugnant premise explicit in the trial scene. The judge looks at Fagin and asks him if he would like to obtain mercy. Fagin naturally says yes. The judge then tells Fagin to get down on his knees and ask Jesus Christ for mercy and acknowledge Christ as savior of mankind.

I should hope it needless to say that this is both historically absurd and an entirely false addition to Dickens’s story, and one which thoroughly undermines the author’s intelligent and nuanced view of social conditions and personal responsibility. Dickens was a powerful advocate of social reform while never denying that people should and indeed must be held responsible for their choices.

Thus the producers cap the adaptation with a slam against Christianity and a presentation of the standard leftist line that Christians are eager to impose their religious beliefs by force ."

This is a totally false picture of nineteenth-century England, which had more freedom of religion than anywhere but the United States—it sounds more like medieval Spain...or modern-day Pakistan. Perhaps PBS could do a drama about that?